Tuning 101: Step Inside Your Car and Feel at Home, Not Like in a Showroom

Mercedes-AMG carbon fiber trims 10 photos
Golf MK6 door cardGolf MK6 tuned interiorGolf MK6 tuned interiorAndroid Auto displayMercedes-Benz carbon fiber interiorBoring dashboardDodge Caravan int lightOld car interior seatsShelby Cobra 350 custom interior
Now that you like the way your car looks from the outside, with those new wheels and lowered stance, you feel your heart beating faster. That's until you open the door and see the same gray interior with dull gray plastic all-around the cabin, and the boring steering wheel.
Choose to upgrade your car, no matter the brand. You might still have some ideas that the carmaker's marketing department didn't consider. Maybe you already know carmakers are doing intensive research about how the interior should look and what the average customer wants. Those who asked for more will have to deal with whatever that "average" means. You happy with that? Though so... So, what can you do?

For a low-budget result, seat covers, floor mats, and steering-wheel cover will be just enough. Yet, I don't think that this is an actual upgrade. Instead, it is like brushing the dirt under the carpet.

Most seats nowadays have side airbags and a net that measure the occupant's weight. Thus, replacing them is might be very expensive. On the other hand, these can be upgraded with new upholstery. There are tons of materials on the market, from fine cloths to leather and Alcantara. Once you go there, the only limit is your budget. You can do that at home with patience and a sewing machine or go to a specialty shop.

Golf MK6 tuned interior
Photo: AJH.RAW Flckr
Plastic trims inside the cockpit are usually dull. Even the chromed parts look good only for a while. After that, they became bland and, in the end, annoying. That's why you might consider either a foil wrapping or a new set of trims. The aftermarket industry is rich in this segment since most businesses are not covered by strict safety regulations. I would go for foil wrapping, though. But when you do that, remove the part, wrap it, cut the excess material on the unseen areas, and place it back. Use a heat gun and patience.

Steering wheels are also fitted with airbags, so replacing them is not always possible. Moreover, if buttons are involved, the job becomes more complex. Some functions such as cruise control or the onboard computer won't be accessible anymore. You can go for either a stitched steering-wheel cover or a complete re-wrap at a specialist shop. I'd go for a cover this time. The result will be about 80% in quality, at a fraction of a price.

It is going to be more challenging to deal with the dashboard. If you want to go the whole nine yards, you will have to remove it, cover it with Alcantara or whatever other materials you want, and put it back. But you might as well remove the air vents, foil-wrap, or paint them, and put 'em back. That will definitely upgrade the view. While here, change the gearknob, the handbrake handle, and the pedals with aftermarket ones.

Android Auto display
Photo: Google
On the center stack, go for new infotainment units. Make sure they work with your CAN-bus and your steering wheel buttons, so you won't have to search for that volume knob or find the button to answer a call. Most units today accept communication with mobile phones. After the unit is installed, foil-wrap the rest of the plastic elements to match the center console and the rest of the interior trims. I won't go into the audio tuning culture since that is so vast that you can write a book. And be already outdated by the time it will be finished.

Many carmakers tried to sell vehicles as light as possible, and that meant thinner soundproofing materials. But that will make you hear all the stones and chips that will hit the bodywork while driving. So when removing the door cards, install new soundproofing materials inside the doors. Not only that they will silence those dings and dongs, but they'll provide a better music listening experience.

Interior lighting ambiance is important. Changing the regular bulbs with LED ones might mess with the CAN bus, so make sure you get the appropriate ones. If you can't find them, leave them stock to avoid errors or fault codes. What you can do is to get interior LED light strips. Go for those with adjustable colors, so you won't get bored by them after a week or two. If you want to go for an exquisite look, you may install LED-s in the car's ceiling, so it will look like a Rolls-Royce.

Dodge Caravan int light
Photo: FCA
Last, but not least, the instrument cluster. Going for a complete TFT display instead of regular analog dials might be an option for many cars. Yet, not all of them are compatible with newer systems. You may go for different lights or even new dials, but you will have to write the old odometer reading. In some states, not doing so is a felony, to say the least.

Before modifying the car's interior, take pictures of it in stock form, change them on a computer, and see the end result. Sometimes, the colors, materials, and shapes won't match, leading to more expenses. Maybe you like green stuff, but that might not go that well with red stitching or carbon-fiber trims. So, choose wisely and remember: you have to like it, not everybody else. But if it's (too) ugly, you'll ride alone.
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About the author: Tudor Serban
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Tudor started his automotive career in 1996, writing for a magazine while working on his journalism degree. From Pikes Peaks to the Moroccan desert to the Laguna Seca, he's seen and done it all.
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